Activists on Tuesday urged the Garrett County Commission to reconsider its support for two proposed Backbone Mountain wind farms that they said will harm the environment, decrease property values and ruin the aesthetics of pristine areas.
Garrett County Commission Chairman Ernest Gregg said after the three-hour meeting that, while commissioners might pause before endorsing another wind farm in the county, they were not likely to change their position on the current projects.
“We’ve issued the letter of support and that’s done,” he said. “I doubt that we’re going to retract it.”
The Maryland Public Service Commission said it has approved a permit for Clipper Windpower to build 67 turbines on Backbone Mountain, while Synergics Wind Energy is waiting for approval to build 24 turbines on the same mountain. At peak, the proposed wind farms could generate enough electricity to power 42,000 homes with clean energy, according to industry groups.
But the Friends of Backbone Mountain, which asked for Tuesday’s meeting, said that power will come at a cost to the heritage and environment of Garrett County. Wind turbines can kill bats and birds, they said, though even environmentalists debate the extent of the problem.
“We think that the commissioners ought to be very careful,” said Jon Boone, a member of Friends of Backbone Mountain. “They’re putting people and property owners at risk here.”
Gregg said the commissioners would consider the information the group presented when it considers future projects, if any. But he noted that the county commission has limited power in the matter and could not impose regulations the activists want.
The commissioners wrote the state in 2002 and again this September to support the wind farms, primarily for their economic benefits. The projects will increase the tax base in the county, provide many temporary and a few permanent positions, and give some county residents a few thousand dollars each year for leasing land.
The Friends of Backbone Mountain argued Tuesday, however, that the wind farms could cause more problems than they are worth while producing a minimal amount of electricity.
“Even if you had thousands of them ringing the area, it would be akin to solving the problems of air pollution in the same way that building a bike path around the Beltway would solve the traffic problems in that area,” Boone said. “It’s just so little and so inefficient that it’s just not going to do the trick.”
Neal Wilkins, the Synergics project manager, was not aware of Tuesday’s meeting. But he has been to other forums about wind power in Garrett County and said Boone and the other activists are in the minority in their opposition to industrial wind farms.
“They put out a lot of false information and exaggerations and inaccuracies,” Wilkins said. “It’s not really to the views or to the benefit of the whole county.”
Besides the Garrett County projects, a third company has received a permit to build a 25-turbine wind farm on Savage Mountain along the Allegany-Garrett County border. That company, U.S. Wind Force, also plans a separate project on Dan’s Mountain in Allegany County, but it has not yet submitted an application.
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